Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the new Our Lady of Peace church in Innisfail has started to welcome back parishioners for Mass a year and a half after a devastating fire destroyed the previous building.
“Totally impressed. It’s a beautiful new building,” said Doug Barlund, chairman of the Our Lady of Peace finance committee, of the new church which opened for Mass at the beginning of June.
“It’s a blessing really to have the new building and know that it’s structurally sound and we’ll enjoy it for many years to come. We’ve accomplished a lot and I think it shows the faith and resilience of our parishioners. When the need is there, our parishioners step up and make it happen.”
The church was heavily damaged after a December 2018 fire believed to have been caused by sparks from welding to repair the roof. The fire damaged wooden pillars that had rotted and weakened over time and left the church, built in 1962, beyond repair.
The building was demolished and shovels were in the ground to build a new one by October 2019.
For about a year, Mass was celebrated in the St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School gymnasium. Every weekend, parishioners set up hundreds of chairs and an altar. They brought crosses and candles for Mass. They’ve also set up a small adoration chapel inside the school.
The first Mass in the new church was celebrated June 5. There have been masses since then, but COVID-19 restrictions, and social distancing, have meant not all parishioners have been inside.
“It was an exciting time. We’ve been waiting day to day, but unfortunately it’s a pandemic time so many people were not able to participate in Mass,” said Rev. Liju Jose, the pastor of Our Lady of Peace.
“On one side I’m very happy, but on the other side not so because of the present situation. We’re looking forward to the day when people can come to church like they did more than a year ago.”
Father Jose livestreamed Easter Sunday Mass in the empty church.
The size of the church remains the same at roughly 2,900 square feet, but the design is completely different. Gone is the hyperbolic, or saddle-type, roof which was expensive to maintain. The new building’s roof is a basic open gable design, and its interior is an open space with a sacristy and cry room near the entrance. The original pews were cleaned and repaired after the fire, and some of the have been shortened because the main aisle of the new church is larger than the original.
The altar and Stations of the Cross are back in place and so is an original painting of the resurrected Christ by a former Our Lady of Peace parishioner, Al Gagne, which was saved from the fire. The painting is now set on one of the back walls of the church.
The total cost of the church rebuild is approximately $700,000, with $500,000 in a mortgage held by the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
With the church completed, renovations continue on the hall and kitchen. Barland said that work will be done by volunteers so the parish can focus on paying off the mortgage. Fundraisers are planned and parishioners have pledged to make higher contributions to help. It’s a big task for the 200 to 250 families of the parish.
Since COVID restrictions have been eased, about 35 people attend Sunday Mass, and about 20 on Saturdays.
The dedication of the new Our Lady of Peace will be held at a future date.
Father Jose said the entire project, from the devastation of the fire to the triumph of the new church, has been a testament to the faith of the parish.
“It’s helped people to pray more, and we all know that faith is foundation of the Church,” Father Jose said. “People went for a new church with the hope and faith that God will help them. They are so trusting in the abundance of God. We are trusting God more and more. Our faith is becoming stronger.”